As a budding actor, Jodi Chan is among the new generation of Singapore theatre practitioners, and she embodies the talent and promise inherent in all young actors. She play the role of Wu Qiaoer in the WuXia play Legends of the Southern Arch recently. In our interview, we seek to understand her stance as a young actor, what the influences were for her to pursue theatre professionally, and her motivations in persevering and surviving in the industry.
The Fervent Age Of Drama Society
Jodi’s theatre awakening started from the Drama Society in her secondary school days. It was pure chance that she joined the Drama Society at Anglican High School. She was initially planning to join the guitar club with two good friends. On orientation day, however, the Drama Society put up an extremely lively and side-splitting performance, which influenced her friends to sign up for the Drama Society instead. Jodi reluctantly compromised and followed suit. Unexpectedly, there was such an overwhelming sign-up rate that only one of her friends got in. The other friend dragged Jodi along to see the teacher-in-charge. Upon being asked by the teacher on their reasons for joining the Drama Society, her friend answered without hesitation that she wanted to be an actor. Jodi simply concurred as a matter of convenience. Hence, all three of them successfully became members. As it turns out, neither of her friends, who were once such fervent in their passion for acting, have anything to do with theatre presently. Having only followed the crowd in the first instance, she is the one instead who has become a theatre practitioner.
Her experiences in the Drama Society greatly influenced Jodi, providing her with a solid theatre foundation, and inculcating humane values alongside like-minded peers with the same passion. The Society would hold public performances every two years, and the teachers-in-charge would tirelessly support the Society members even beyond co-curricular hours. Members were divided into groups such as performing, production, publicity, welfare, etc, and everyone would work as a team to strive for their common goal. Jodi very much treasures those days of single-minded and collective dynamism. The teachers would frequently organise theatre-going outings as well, and impress upon them the importance of theatre etiquette in watching performances. Jodi recalls watching several plays by Drama Box and The ETCeteras. She was especially taken by Blowing In The Wind presented by The ETCeteras. The lead female character was named Piaopiao, and she started off by referring to herself from the third person perspective. However, she later switched to referring herself in the first person as “I”. Jodi was very much touched by this transition. The appeal of The ETCeteras stemmed from the fact that the group itself was set up by newly-graduated students, and this struck a chord with the fervent youths of the Drama Society.
Not A Promising Career Choice
Jodi studied Communication Studies in university. Despite her active years in the Drama Society, she never once considered taking up Theatre Studies in university. She attributes it to her lack of belief in turning her passion into a viable profession. None of her Drama Society peers continued their passion for drama in university as well. However, Jodi would still return to Anglican High to take part in the productions organised by the alumni. She is also a frequent theatre goer.
After graduation, Jodi assumed that she would apply for jobs in the advertising or government sectors. That is, until she came across an job vacancy for an administrator for TTRP (previously named Theatre Training & Research Programme, now known as Intercultural Theatre Institute). Although she did not get the job, it invoked her interest to find work in the theatre industry. She eagerly sought for job possibilities in all theatre companies, and secured an interview with The Theatre Practice for the position of Marketing & Sales Executive. At the same time, she was also offered a job by Singapore Tourism Board (STB). Her family all preferred the STB job as it offered a higher salary and greater opportunities. However, the thought of being able to work in a theatre company as an administrator was such a jolt to the heart for Jodi, and she made her decision.
She recalls that as she sat down for dinner, her father, mother and older brother were discussing the choices to make in life. Just like her secondary school years, her parents would lament at her silliness in staying for drama rehearsals till the wee hours, or end up with paint stains all over in making props. Similarly, they still failed to comprehend her rationale in her career choice. Despite the differences in opinions, nobody actually stopped her from pursuing her decision. She feels lucky that her family was willing to accept her choice after all.
Becoming An Actor
As a result of her administrative role in a theatre company, Jodi came to realise that it was quite possible to become a freelance actor in Singapore, and that one could survive in such a profession. Thus, after two years, she decided to pursue a Masters in the performing arts in the United Kingdom. During her Masters studies, she only met with her teachers two to three times each week, and each session lasted a mere three to four hours. This was scarcely adequate for her. Although the school greatly supported independent performances by students, and provided venues as well, the mode of studying was still very much driven by the students’ own initiatives. Jodi tried to take part in the final productions led by doctorate students, and also attended numerous workshops outside of school. This helped her to learn in a more fulfilling manner. She feels that the best thing about studying in the UK is the ability to get up close and personal with the local arts scene. For instance, she attended the well-known Edinburgh International Festival. As an open platform welcoming artistes from countries all around the world, the Festival presents a truly vibrant and multi-faceted showcase. Jodi was astonished by how any space could potentially be turned into a performing venue, such as the corner of a street or a small tavern. In a mere six days, she and her friends took in a dazzling count of over 20 performances. Although the productions were of varying standards, she relishes it as a very different form of experience. In comparison to the United Kingdom, Jodi feels that Singapore tends to lack a certain extent of openness in theatre, and it is not possible for one to arbitrarily put together a performance without much preparation. Although the local system guarantees a certain quality as a result, part of the dynamic energy seems to be diminished.
After returning to Singapore, Jodi immediately took part in a local production. To date, she has packed a few plays under her belt as a good start to her career. She aims to find ways to connect what she has learned to her roles, so that she may meaningfully apply herself and grow further.
Jodi is also interested to develop the future of theatre education. Her own passion was ignited through the support of great teachers in school, and she finds it meaningful to pass on that spark to others. She is convinced of the life-changing impact that theatre would have on a person’s growth, and she is dedicated to the nurturing of future generations through the journey of theatre education.
Recently, the notion of “Keeping The Faith” has surfaced. For the new generation of theatre practitioners, several of them continue to stoke the fervour of their school days as they pursue theatre. This is their initial faith. However, we also hope that practitioners constantly reflect upon their reasons for doing theatre, and further ignite continuous energy to keep it going.
(Cover picture: Stage photo of Legends of the Southern Arch / Inset picture: Rehearsal photo of If There're Seasons...2014 / Bottom picture: Stage photo of One Table Two Chairs Experimental Series 2014 )
Continue reading on Issue 6 / March 2015:Living in the Present, Not Forgetting the Past